Aboard Air Force One
En Route Orly, France
5:00 P.M. CEST
MR. EARNEST: Good afternoon, everybody. We just wanted to take this brief opportunity to give you a readout of the G7 meetings. Ben sat in on a number of the meetings, so he’s in a position to give you a sense about what happened. After that, we can take questions on topics that may be on your mind. But we’ve got a short flight, so we’ll do this quick.
MR. RHODES: Just quickly, first of all, on Ukraine we believe the most important element coming out of this G7 is that all of the G7 countries are aligned in the messages that they’re sending to Russia. Specifically, as you heard the President and Prime Minister say, Russia needs to recognize the election that just took place and President-elect Poroshenko as the legitimate leader of Ukraine and work with President-elect Poroshenko, who has committed to pursue a plan to deescalate the situation and reach out to eastern Ukraine.
But Russia also must use its influence to cease its support for the separatist elements in the east, to use their influence to press those separatists to disarm and pursue a reduction of tensions, and to negotiate with the government in Kyiv going forward. We also want to see Russia stop the flow of arms and materiel and people across the border who are destabilizing the situation in eastern Ukraine.
So, essentially, we want there to be one message to Russia. And, similarly, we want there to be a clear message to the Ukrainian government about the types of support that we’re prepared to provide as they seek to stabilize their democracy and their economy. We see this as a moment of opportunity, given that there’s a new President-elect, that there’s an inauguration on Saturday. We would like Russia to take that opportunity. However, the leaders also agree that if they don’t, there are going to have to be additional costs for the Russians, including additional sanctions.
Just very quickly on some of the other issues, I’d only highlight, again, energy and climate was a particularly important area of focus. The President was able to brief the leaders on his rule, commit to working together towards a successful global framework next year -- agree to take steps to limit HFCs, consistent with a global effort that we’ve led. We focused on global health security, agreeing to work with other countries, for instance, so that they are pressing countries around the world to join with the WHO in preventing the spread of disease. On global economy -- a good discussion that focused on the importance of policies that promote growth, that combat long-term unemployment and that reduce inequality -- and the leaders agreed that this will continue to be a focus through the G7.
And on energy, each of the G7 countries has been focused on diversification. They will each do their own assessments about their energy picture. And then, there can be a plan of action developed based on those assessments for further steps that we can take to diversify energy resources as you’ve heard us talking about throughout this trip. And with that, I’d be happy to take questions on the G7, the Cameron bilat or anything else.
Q Can you guys talk at all about having Hollande or Cameron try to arrange a Putin-Poroshenko meeting when they’re both in France tomorrow?
MR. RHODES: I think there was a discussion about the various interactions that leaders will have with President Putin, and a discussion about the approach that leaders will take in those bilateral meetings with President Putin and, again, the importance that they’re carrying similar messages. President-elect Poroshenko will be there as well. One of the messages that we’ll be delivering is that President Putin should recognize President-elect Poroshenko as the legitimate leader. So therefore, in that context, it’s important for him to reach out and demonstrate that he’s going to be willing to work with President-elect Poroshenko and the new government in Kyiv.
There’s not a meeting planned among the different leaders, but they’ll certainly be together, for instance, around the lunch. So, again, there will be interactions. But, again, we do know that several of the European leaders have formal bilateral meetings with President Putin where they can deliver that message.
Q Would an informal meeting between Poroshenko and Putin be more significant than an informal meeting between President Putin and President Obama?
MR. RHODES: We certainly believe it’s most important for there to be dialogue with the government in Kyiv. We’ve always said that. I mean, it’s a good question. And what we’ve said is it’s not for Russia and the United States to talk to each other about the future of Ukraine. The important thing is the government of Kyiv is in those conversations, whether it’s with us or with the Russians. Importantly though, it’s not just whether or not they have an interaction. It’s also about whether or not Russia recognizes the results of the election and formally moves forward in dealing with the new administration in Kyiv that’s going to be inaugurated on Saturday.
So, yes, interactions are important. But we also believe that they have to be coupled with a formal acceptance that this election was legitimate, that this is the new leader of Ukraine and that they will have a bilateral relationship that can allow them to reduce tensions.
Q One other question on sectoral sanctions, does status quo a month from now mean sectoral sanctions? Or does Putin have to escalate it, as has been the threat in the past?
MR. RHODES: Well, I think what the leaders agreed is that they’ll be looking at both the actions that President Putin takes, or the actions that he doesn’t take. So, for instance, if he fails to recognize the results of the election -- if he fails to work with the new government in Ukraine to reduce tensions -- that’s going to factor into our calculus.
But, similarly, if he continues to support these separatists, if he continues -- if we continue to see arms and other materiel flowing across the border and see the violence that we’ve seen, that there should be additional sanctions. I think we’ll have to make a judgment at that time about whether or not we move all the way to sectoral sanctions. But clearly, sectoral sanctions are on the table. The leaders understand that. We’ve actually begun to have discussions with them about how those would be implemented. So, yes, I think Russia should take the message that if we see the status quo continuing, that we are going to move to additional sanctions, and that again we’ll be calibrating those based on what the situation is and that sectoral sanctions are in the toolkit.
And we also, again, while I’m not setting any deadlines, because we’re entering into a very fluid period with a new administration, it’s going to be a very important couple of weeks to see what develops with President-elect Poroshenko coming into office and pursuing an effort to reduce tensions, that the European Council -- the European leaders made clear that the European Council meeting in late June is a natural point to review progress to date and to discuss new steps going forward.
Q Would it be fair to say that some of your European partners would prefer to respond to inaction by Putin with similar sanctions that have been levied already short of sectoral sanctions, and the U.S. wants to go straight to sectoral sanctions?
MR. RHODES: Well, look, we have made very clear that there needs to be both a credible cost imposed on Russia for what’s taken place. And we believe that the sanctions to date have done that. There needs to be a very clear deterrent for Russian action or inaction through sectoral sanctions. So Russia needs to know that the U.S. and Europe are serious about this, and that, then we’d discuss what the range is between targeted and sectoral sanctions. You heard Prime Minister Cameron be very clear about sectoral sanctions, for instance, in his statement with the President. Again, I think that this is something that we’re going to calibrate based on where the situation is. But I think what the leaders understand is that there cannot be a status quo in which you have this level of violence and destabilization in eastern Ukraine, especially when you have a newly-elected government that should have the legitimacy that comes with a democratic election.
So, again, we’ll be calibrating the extent of those sanctions. Everybody agrees that there needs to be cost. Everybody agrees that sectoral sanctions need to be on the table. We’ll judge what the -- how far to turn the dial based on how events transpire in the coming weeks.
Q Ben, on Sergeant Bergdahl, the President made clear he had no apologies for the action he took. But some members of the military are upset not that he was rescued or the trade was done, but there was a lot of pomp and circumstance around the Rose Garden ceremony and with Ambassador Rice calling him -- saying he served with honor. Can you respond to the concerns of some military members that there was a lot of flourish around the rescue and the public relations around the rescue, rather than the actual rescue?
MR. RHODES: Well, look, I actually think the President spoke to this quite well today. He met with the parents of Sergeant Bergdahl, and he spoke with them at the White House. And, frankly, I think everybody should feel that parents who have been away from their son for nearly five years -- knowing that he was in harm’s way, knowing that he was in captivity from the Taliban -- that it is a joyful thing that those parents are going to be reunited with their son. And I think the President was very clear that it was the right thing to do, again, to share in the joy that those parents felt that they were going to be reunited with Sergeant Bergdahl. So I think he’s addressed that.
And frankly, again, our military has made clear its commitment to the principle that we don’t leave service members behind. The Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff has been very clear about that. Our Army leadership has been very clear about that. Whatever the circumstances of Sergeant Bergdahl’s capture, clearly it still applies that we leave no service member behind. We don’t want a service member to die in Taliban captivity. We want to bring him home. And that was worth doing. It was the right thing to do. It would be done again in a heartbeat if we knew we could get him home.
And, again, I think the President expressed both the way in which he made that decision and the importance, again, of seeing those parents.
Q Ben, do you think the energy and climate portion of today’s G7 meeting will help advance talks next year on a climate deal?
MR. RHODES: Yes. A number of the leaders made a point of welcoming the President’s new effort on climate change. And we think that it will help, because it gives concrete meaning to the commitments we made at Copenhagen about how we’re going to reach our emissions reduction target. And so what the United States, through the Climate Action Plan, demonstrating the means by which we’re going to reduce our emissions, it put us in a strong position together with G7 countries to work with nations like China and India and others who have to similarly take bold action and articulate how they’re going to reach their emissions reduction target as well.
So we do feel there is some momentum on the climate change issue, given again our clear roadmap for reducing our emissions. And there’s more work to be done for sure, both domestically and with other international partners. The key principle here is that every nation has got to step up to the plate in its own way. And, again, if the G7 can lead, we’ll be better able to bring China and India with us.
MR. EARNEST: Thanks, guys.
5:12 P.M. CEST